Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic is a surefire way to put anyone in a bad mood, but what scientists have found is that spending time in traffic on a regular basis may negatively impact your mental health. This probably isn't that shocking to hear, but what you might not know is how traffic is impacting your brain and emotions.
Sitting in traffic can leave you feeling fatigued. A study by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that the average American spends just under an hour of time driving every day. Much of that driving is dedicated to simply getting to and from a place of employment. Whether you're carpooling or driving alone, this lengthy drive can leave you feeling drained by the end of the day, which contributes to a feeling of dissatisfaction with your job and an unwillingness to engage in social activities after work. In fact, Dr. Robert Putnam from Harvard suggests that every extra 10 spent commuting results in 10 percent fewer social connections.
Traffic-jams and crowded roads can increase feelings of anxiety. People who are especially susceptible to anxiety, and those who are not, are all at risk of heightened anxiety levels when they're commuting long distances often. The fear of being late to work or getting into an accident contributes to this problem, as does a general dread of hitting the road on a daily basis.
Daily commuters often report higher stress levels. When faced with gridlocked traffic and constantly busy highways, humans naturally enter into a stressed state of emotion. This comes from the instinct to protect yourself and deal with a high-intensity situation. Unfortunately, this prolonged exposure to stress also contributes to the risk of cardiovascular disease, feelings of unhappiness, and a lower immune system.
People with long commutes report lower quality of sleep. The Regus Work-Life Balance Index for 2012 found that drivers who spent more than an hour and a half each day commuting each to and from their place of work reported lower sleep quality and more exhaustion than people with shorter commutes. Plus, your heightened levels of anxiety and stress from driving every day can impact your sleep, which leads to more mental health issues.
Even an extra half hour spent in the car each day can influence job satisfaction. In fact, a study found that adding 20 minutes to your commute each day can have the same negative effect on your job satisfaction as receiving a 19 percent pay cut. Researchers have also discovered that each extra minute of commuting reduces both job and leisure time satisfaction.
You're more at risk of becoming depressed. A study conducted at the University School of Medicine in Saint Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas found that people with commutes of at least 10 miles each way have a higher tendency toward depression, anxiety, and social isolation. No wonder you feel so down in the dumps when you arrive home after an hour of sitting in traffic.
How long is your daily commute to work? Do you feel that it impacts your feelings about your job and time? Let us know in the comments.